Bernie Sanders says his platform makes financial sense for most Americans. For example, his campaign says Sanders's single-payer health care system would save an average family of four almost $6,000 per year.
But in order to pay for his proposed programs, Sanders needs to increase taxes on virtually everyone in America. So if you're a voter, the question is simple:
- Are you willing to pay more taxes for his proposals, like nationalized health care and free public college tuition?
- How much more?
When we polled voters, we found most Sanders supporters aren't willing to pay more than an additional $1,000 in taxes for his biggest proposals. That's well short of how much more the average taxpayer would pay under his tax plan.
We asked voters how much more they are willing to pay for nationalized health care and free public college
We conducted a poll the week of April 4 in partnership with the nonpartisan technology and media company Morning Consult. In it, we asked voters how much more they would be willing to pay for two of Sanders's big propositions: a universal health care system covering all Americans and free tuition at public colleges and universities.
Most Americans say they are willing to pay something extra for these programs:
- Nationalized health care: Around 80 percent of Sanders supporters are willing to pay more in federal taxes for universal health care coverage, compared with about 70 percent of Clinton supporters and about 40 percent of those supporting a Republican candidate.
- Free public college tuition: A slightly lower percentage of people were willing to pay more for free public college tuition: 80 percent of Sanders supporters, 60 percent of Clinton supporters, and about 40 percent of those supporting a Republican candidate.
But when we look at how much more voters are willing to pay, we get a better idea of how voters view Sanders's plan.
Two in three Sanders supporters don't want to pay more than $1,000, or at all, for universal health care
About 66 percent of Sanders supporters said they wouldn't be willing to pay more than an additional $1,000 in taxes for universal health care. This includes the 8 percent of Sanders supporters who aren't willing to pay anything at all.
When we asked what percentage of their income they would pay, rather than a dollar figure, voters seem to be a bit more generous.
While half of Sanders supporters said they aren't willing to pay or that they're only willing to pay less than 5 percent of their income, a quarter said they would pay between 5 and 10 percent.
What Sanders supporters are willing to pay isn't enough for his health care plan
In 2015, the average person on an employer-sponsored health plan paid a little more than $1,000 annually in premiums, and the average family paid nearly $5,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In other words, even Sanders supporters are saying they don't want to pay as much to the federal government for health care as they are paying right now in the private sector.
But Sanders's plan to pay for universal health care coverage would increase taxes on most voters by more than $1,000. He wants to:
- Add a 2.2 percentage point surcharge on individual incomes. This means marginal tax rates go up for everyone. (After a standard deduction, about a quarter of households won't have to pay this surcharge.)
- Add a new 6.2 percent tax on earnings, which employers pay — but will be passed on to workers over time in the form of lower wages, according to the Tax Policy Center's Roberton Williams.
The kicker for all of this? Some analysts believe Sanders's plan will cost twice as much as his campaign estimates.
Older people and wealthier people don't want to pay as much
When you break down the poll results by age, rather than by candidate, it appears older people don't want to pay as much for universal health care. This is especially interesting because older people have higher premiums, use the health care system more often, and spend a larger portion of their money on health care. So a universal health care system would curb their spending a lot more. Still, they either don't want Sanders's health care plan or they want to pay less for it:
Exit polls have shown older people are much less likely to support Sanders compared with younger people, and this shows that a big part of that might be older people unwilling to hand over more money to the federal government to provide services.
But the other factor might be income. Older people generally make more money and are more likely to be employed, and our poll shows that people who earn more money would pay less for Sanders's health care plan — both as a percentage of their income and in dollars.
About two in three Sanders supporters don't want to pay extra, or no more than $1,000, for free public college tuition
Sanders supporters are far and away the most likely to want free public college tuition. Still, 14 percent said they don't want to pay additional taxes for it — and another half said they would only pay up to $1,000 a year:
That said, in a theoretical world where every Sanders policy comes true, they might not even have to pay a dime. The way Sanders proposes paying for free public college tuition is by levying a tax on Wall Street speculators.
Older and wealthy people do not want to be taxed more for higher education
One reason so many Sanders supporters might be willing to pay more for higher education is that for many of them, it is a large burden right now.
Sanders has consistently polled well among voters under 30, who are recent college graduates, and those are the voters who said in our poll that they were willing to pay more taxes for free public college tuition.
Meanwhile, a larger portion of older people said they did not want to pay more for free public college tuition:
This is also reflected in people of higher income brackets, who were similarly less willing to pony up to fund higher education:
Many Sanders supporters don't want to Feel the Bern in their wallets
Sanders's plan would put an additional $5,000 of federal tax liability on households earning $50,000, but in exchange he would nationalize vital services currently in the private sector.
That means at least some of the money we're now paying private companies would be paid to the federal government instead.
But the majority of Sanders supporters in our poll (much less all voters) aren't willing to pay enough to actually support those nationalized services.
This isn't a question of whether Sanders's ideas are valid. This is a question of how voters are thinking about Sanders's revolution, which is a radical increase in the scope of what government is responsible for, versus the private sector.
To their credit, some Sanders supporters have done the math and figured out that even with big tax increases, they would end up saving more money from Sanders's new programs. But many other people were surprised when they used our candidate tax calculator and found out how much additional taxes they would pay under Sanders's plan.
Yet that's the revolution — one that promises Medicare for all, public college tuition for all, massive investments in infrastructure, expanded Social Security, etc. Those services require higher taxes, but could also save people money in the long run.
It's a shift in the way we think about how we pay for social services. But right now, it appears that even Sanders supporters haven't gotten their heads around what that means for their finances.